Other Places

I have a icky cold today and don’t feel very self-inspired to write. However, I was so inspired by another’s great idea. I thought the Artful Manager’s idea to use iTunes in the place of doing promotional DVD/CDs, I sent the link to his blog to all the members of my booking consortium rather than keeping it to myself. (They don’t know I blog. I am sure they would be in too much awe of my insights to hold meaningful conversations. Why don’t I trot out those self-same insights at meetings? Well, then I wouldn’t have anything to blog about!)

I have also been enjoying reading Adapistration’s “Something Special In St. Louis” series (read follow his links to all the installments) where Drew McManus talks to musicians and audience members at a free concert by the St. Louis Symphony with 30 musicians from 14 other orchestras to thank the public for staying faithful to me through the contentious strike the symphony just underwent. (Drew chronicles the horrid mess here)

The thing that struck me most was that the event seemed to humanize the orchestra to their patrons and the patrons to the orchestra. In fact, the event seemed to solidify the idea of the arts community as including both the artists and the patrons.

On the other hand, there was a frank recognition that there is some serious healing that has to be done between the musicians and management. One also hopes that the bond they now feel for each other doesn’t melt away too quickly and revert to business as usual where the audience feels intimidated and the orchestra regarding them with mild disdain.

I’ve Said Too Much/I Haven’t Said Enough

No, this isn’t an entry on R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”. As much as I have championed open book management, I have been wondering lately where the balance is in what concerns/bad news you tell people in your organization and what you keep quiet.

Certainly the people whom you manage are there to help you solve problems so there should be some discussion going on. Also, it is unhealthy to keep certain facts from people (the accountant has embezzled all our money). If you are always smiling and saying all is well when there are clearly issues of concern circulating the office, you lose your credibility with people.

On the other hand, you can share too much information or information that has no bearing on the state of the company and can undermine your relationship with others. For example, saying something like -My greatest fear is that the Earth is going to plunge into the sun. I take massive drugs to prevent me from cowering under my desk but I forgot them today and the corporate officers are visiting. If I start screaming hysterically, could you come in and tell me I have a call on line 5?

But what about the less explicit occasions where you are creating uneasy feelings a little bit overtime with a comment here and there. Obviously, some people will over-analyze comments and see problems where none exist and others will be oblivious even if you standing next to them cackling and rubbing your hands together in a stereotypically evil fashion.

It is the people in the middle that you worry about and wonder if in expressing your concerns, you are giving the gradual impression that you can’t stand the pressure even though you are just mildly tired, frustrated and cranky.

Often it is necessary to say something of your mood and the causes so that people know to give you a little room and time to yourself and don’t assume they are the cause of your scowl. Provided you don’t tell them you will ruin their lives and careers if they don’t get out of your office or use some other unhealthy expression of your situation, this is a healthy means of communication and relationship building.

One can fall into a trap though of feeling that the more you relate, the healthier your relationship with those you supervise might be. You get into discussions of shifts in policy which are only being explored to weigh the positives and negatives and suddenly people are up in arms because they think these policies are being seriously considered as one more to screw them over. Meetings set aside for informed debate can become open forums where ultimatums are issued about what the decision had better be.

On other side is that if there is no discussion outside of meetings about what is being considered, people can perceive the secrecy as a sign that the powers that be are secretly planning to screw them over. Soon innuendo and rumors lead you to the same ultimatum issuing.

My joking aside. I do scrutinize my daily actions wondering if I am striking the balance or striking out. While I would love to know if anyone has a good set of rules written down in a book outlining what to say when, it is my strong suspicion that most people are flailing around in the dark as much as I am.

I guess this is why you can often get a college degree in business as either an art or a science(BA or BS) because it is both and neither.

Amazing Arts

As I said, I liked what I saw on the Amazing Things Arts Center so much, I am not only publishing a Friday entry, but I am writing it on Thursday night and setting to it post tomorrow!

One of the things that really impressed me was their Governance Center link. Not only did they have their bylaws on there for people to peruse, but they other great resources as well.

The first is a great letter to the prospective Board of Directors member that outlines what will be expected of them, references the MA state laws under which they operate with a hyperlink and also talks about what sort of dedication the director can expect from the membership.

The document with the aforementioned state laws they operate under is great. I wish all states put out such a wonderful guide for potential non-profit board members. Actually, it the document isn’t really state specific and can be used as the basis of any good board information document.

Also included on the website is a code of ethics any non-profit board member should follow.

And they have a checklist to help the directors perform an organizational self-evaluation as to how well they are performing essential, recommended and suggested functions of a non-profit board.

I have to really applaud the Center. They really seem to have done their homework and put a lot of thought into the structure and organization of their institution. And they want to make it easy for people to educate themselves about what it means to be a member of the organization and the board.

Elected Board or Board of the Elect?

Benjamin Melancon asks an interesting question in the comments section of a recent entry. He asks in my broader experience, how common are arts organizations with elected boards rather than recruited board members.

His particular organization, Amazing Things Arts Center has decided the “only way to begin to answer those questions of balancing money and contacts versus effort and representation, or stability versus fresh talent, or anything else, was to have our board elected by the membership.”

My answer to him is, in my broader experience, I don’t really know of any. I do know of non-arts non-profits that have elected boards–more on that in a minute. I would be interested to know if anyone else has had experience with elected board vs. appointed. Email me or add a comment.

I think perhaps the operative term in his question might be “community arts organization.” This may be something that is more workable in a smaller scale arts operation. The current capital fund drive Amazing Things is doing is for $30,000. It is easier to eschew the bucks and buddies board orientation if you aren’t in need of a great deal of money. They may find that things change in the future.

But it does bring up an interesting point worth examining. The one thing that a recruited board has over an elected one is that if you do the vetting properly, you will ensure that the people on the board are philosophically aligned with the goals and mission of the organization. If they don’t then you have no one to blame but yourselves.

You don’t have the same assurance with an elected board. The best illustration of this fact with a non-profit is the Sierra Club. The last two year’s elections have been contentious battles between factions within the club accusing each other of lying to either stifle progressives or promote a racist, anti-immigration agenda depending on which side you are on.

There are such concerns about people trying to stack the deck in their favor by getting their friends to join the Sierra Club, there are proposed amendments to their by-laws removing spaces for write in candidates from the ballot and requiring people to be members for a full year before they can run for a board position.

You don’t want to think that will happen in your organization when you are starting it up and it probably wouldn’t for many years. However, looking at Amazing Things Arts Center’s bylaws (and I am only using them as an example because I don’t know of any other arts organizations) all one needs to do is get their friends to pay the $25 membership fee the day before an election or meeting to stack the member attendance in their favor to elect or remove a board member. Since proxies are not allowed, it might be difficult to rally enough support to combat this if one sees this sort of thing coming only the day before.

That being said, the whole process in an membership elected board is much more transparent than it is in an appointed board. Also, the membership feel a greater investment if they can identify with the board member. If power shifts in an appointed board and someone is ousted, it can be difficult to get the membership at large outraged.

Whereas if a large portion of the membership is at a meeting where tensions are running high because $500 was shelled out to allow 20 new people to vote, that is something you remember the next time around. (On the other hand, it can undermine confidence in the organization much more than kicking a vaguely known board member off a recruited board)

So pros and cons to both approaches. I am other folks can think of more. On the whole though, keeping people interested and invested in your organization is a good thing. It is even better if you can get people interested and invested whose bank accounts accrue interest that can be invested.

Having the voices of a number of somewhat less wealthy people to advocate for you can be valuable as well. When I was working in South Jersey, Subaru of America which has its HQ in Cherry Hill, NJ was celebrating its 30th anniversary by giving away 30 cars to 30 causes. They had their employees vote on which organizations to give cars to and the place I was working at got one because of those votes. (I gotta say, those are some pretty nice cars)

I really liked some of what I saw on Amazing Arts Center, so much so that I am gonna devote my next entry to it.